It’s not easy writing a column sometimes – especially when every England performance so far in this World Cup has been the same!
In all of the games so far, we’ve seen 20 minutes of decent stuff with not much else to write home about.
And that’s obviously a big worry when we play the World Champions New Zealand next. Especially when they’ve looked awesome in every game so far.
At this stage, it’s very hard to see how England can beat the Kiwis at Wembley. The biggest hope we have is that we’ve been keeping our powder dry and that we really do have a lot more to offer.
Because if what we’ve seen so far is truly representative of how good we are, then next week could be quite one-sided.
In reality, though, I think we can certainly play better but I don’t think we’ll win. I know we’ve beaten New Zealand in recent Four Nations competitions in order to make the final, but this Kiwi side seems much more balanced and this time, of course, they boast a certain Sonny Bill Williams.
It’s true that we also have genuine world stars like Sam Burgess, James Graham and George Burgess in our team who can mix it with anyone in the world and come out on top. But we still have too many weak areas in the side which will be ruthlessly exposed on the big stage.
You’d imagine, for example, that New Zealand will send a lot of traffic in the direction of Leroy Cudjoe. If England are to win, Leroy will have to play better than ever before.
Our left side looks vulnerable and the Kiwi right-hand attack will attack it all day long. There is always the temptation of sacrificing Cudjoe for a better defender like Carl Ablett, but I don’t think Steve McNamara will necessarily do that, and I don’t think I would either. One way of nullifying their right is by stopping Sonny Bill Williams, and we need Sam Burgess playing opposite him to do that.
If Sam does nothing other than tackle Sonny Bill every time he gets the ball, then he’ll have done a good job.
We saw in round one of the NRL Burgess getting the better of Williams quite spectacularly, and we need a repeat of that at Wembley. Our outside backs are certainly an improvement on those who played in the 2008 World Cup, but they still don’t come close to comparing to the best of the NRL.
When you look at the Kiwi wingers, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Manu Vatuvei, you can only drool. They are an amazing couple of players.
And Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson in their halves look a much more adept pairing than Rangi Chase and Kevin Sinfield.
Another Kiwi danger man is Issac Luke and, given that I’ve now accepted England aren’t going to start Sinfield at hooker, I really hope McNamara keeps faith with Michael McIlorum to start the game. The Wigan hooker is ideally suited to the first 20 minutes of a Test like this. He is capable of containing and even upsetting Luke, who is one of the best attacking players that Rugby League has produced in the last ten years. James Roby is then better suited to coming off the bench as an impact player.
But England will be up for this. Playing in a World Cup semi-final against the champions at Wembley will bring the best out quite a few of our players.
If all of our big guns fire, then we will have a chance.
But if I take off the red-and-white-tinted glasses, I think the Kiwis will win by around 12 points.
I’d love to be proved wrong though. The whole country is behind you boys – go and do us proud!
Hats off to Scotland for a superb World Cup campaign that came to an end on Friday night in Leeds against the Kiwis.
They created quite a lot of openings, and that should provide England with quite a bit of heart, although that was largely down to the superb Danny Brough, who, for reasons we may never understand, won’t be lining up for England on Saturday.
Steve McCormack has done a great job as coach and players like Brough, Luke Douglas and Matty Russell have been up there with anything in the competition.
Even their Championship players really did themselves proud and didn’t look out of place.
The Scots have had a great campaign and it’s sides like theirs that make World Cups what they are.
First published in League Express, Monday 18th Nov 2013